Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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Make Iowa Great Again

We Must Make Iowa Great Again
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, May 16, 2023, p. A5

Our country arose out of the ashes of authoritarianism. The Declaration of Independence charged the “King of Great Britain (as) having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.”

Yet our founders knew, as John Quincy Adams wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Curious about how this happens? Read Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die. [They describe its death with the detail of a Julia Child recipe for boeuf bourguignon.]

A law school colleague, when frustrated by students’ silence, would ask, “Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?” Polls reveal a significant percentage of Americans neither listen nor care. They say a populist authoritarian ruler is preferable to democracy.

[They’re not totally irrational.] They believe their needs are neither recognized nor addressed by a democracy ruled by a wealthy elite because, well, because they’re not.

Republicans have played the populism card with duplicity and skill. Democrats fought against their own most effective, pro-democracy populist: Bernie Sanders.

We have two national governments. The executive and legislative bodies in Washington, and the governors and legislatures in 50 states. Some of both are weakening democracy with strategies from the authoritarian’s playbook.

Consider Iowa. The consolidation of power from the people, cities, state agencies, and legislators into the governor’s office. Political ideology governing hires and judicial appointments. Restricting access to public information. Tax breaks and curtailed regulation for major donors.

From 1969 to 1983 Iowans kept re-electing another conservative Republican: Governor Robert Ray.

Ray’s accomplishments would more than fill this column. Here are a few. Public employees collective bargaining, Commission on the Status of Women, Iowa Council on Children, eliminating sales tax on food and drugs, Department of Environmental Quality, expanded funding for K-12 schools, making Iowa first in the nation to protect Native Americans’ graves.

Ray held daily news conferences, was pro-choice before Roe, and opposed the death penalty. He personally lobbied President Ford and Secretary Kissinger to change the law, enabling Iowa to welcome refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. The first state to do so.

Ray realized that democracy requires more than constitutions and laws. It requires the norms of behavior essential to its survival -– especially “mutual tolerance” and “institutional forbearance.” It requires the “civic society,” the non-partisan organizations and coalitions Tocqueville observed in 1835. An awareness that hate is not a policy and should not be a political strategy.

[Our current political parties have made democracy more difficult.] We must turn to ourselves to rebuild the civic society it requires. If Linn County can bring together a variety of the world’s religions in its Inter-Religious Council, think of what other coalitions are possible.

Edward R. Murrow courageously exposed authoritarian Senator Joseph McCarthy in a “See It Now” March 4, 1979. McCarthy, he concluded, had [merely] exploited our fear. “Cassius was right: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’”

Nicholas Johnson is the author of Columns of Democracy. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Note: [Bracketed material] was deleted by the editor for space.

Declaration of Independence. “Declaration of Independence: A Transcription,” America’s Founding Documents, National Archives, July 4, 1776, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

“The Declaration of Independence,” America’s Founding Documents, National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration

Adams quote. John Quincy Adams, “The Letters of John and Abigail Adams,” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/49810-i-do-not-say-that-democracy-has-been-more-pernicious (“democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”)

How Democracies Die. Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, New York: Crown, 2018 Other related books: Madeleine Albright, Fascism: A Warning, HarperCollins Publishers, 2018 Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Tim Duggan Books, 2017 Nicholas Johnson, Columns of Democracy, Lulu, 2018 Sarah Repucci and Amy Slipowitz, “Freedom in the World 2022; The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule,” Freedom House, undated, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2022/global-expansion-authoritarian-rule

Julia Child recipe. Chef Kate, “Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child,” Food, undated, https://www.food.com/recipe/boeuf-bourguignon-a-la-julia-child-148007 (with 44 steps of directions)

Anybody listening? Widely shared story at UI Law when I was there. I know of no “source” other than my memory. I’m not disclosing his name because I’ve not sought his approval. Although I hadn’t known of any other use of the questions than his when I put it in the text, a subsequent Google search for “Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?” produces a number of instances.

Americans preferring autocracy. Matthew C. MacWilliams, “Trump Is an Authoritarian. So Are Millions of Americans; It’s not how we think of our fellow-citizens, but no matter who wins in November, the impulse will be very much alive in the country. What do they want?” Politico, 09/23/2020, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/09/23/trump-america-authoritarianism-420681

Lee Drutman, Larry Diamond and Joe Goldman, “Follow the Leader: Exploring American Support for Democracy and Authoritarianism,” Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, March 2018, https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publication/follow-the-leader (“More than a quarter of respondents show at least some support for either a “strong leader” or “army rule. . . . The highest levels of support for authoritarian leadership come from those who are disaffected, disengaged from politics, deeply distrustful of experts, culturally conservative, and have negative views toward racial minorities.”)

Michael Hais, Doug Ross and Morley Winograd, “Protecting Democracy and Containing Autocracy,” Brookings, May 10, 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/05/10/protecting-democracy-and-containing-autocracy/ (“Sixty percent of white working class Americans agreed with the statement that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” Although only 40% of all Americans felt that way in 2017, almost 47% of them voted in 2020 to support a candidate for president who exhibited blatant authoritarian behavior.”)

Needs not addressed. See generally, Bing search: “What are some examples of ways in which the working poor have not been well served by the Democrats?”

“Working Poor,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_poor See especially sub-head “Obstacles to uplift”)

“7 Examples of Poor Working Conditions and How to Improve Them,” Pulpstream, undated, https://www.pulpstream.com/resources/blog/working-conditions

Republicans use of populism. See generally, Bing search: “("does Trump" OR "do Republicans") campaign as populists?”

Michael Lind, “Donald Trump, the Perfect Populist; Why the GOP front-runner has far broader appeal than his predecessors going back to George Wallace,” PoliticoMagazine, March 9, 2016, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/donald-trump-the-perfect-populist-213697/ (“In Trump, many of the kind of white working-class voters once called Reagan Democrats have found a tribune who represents their views and values more consistently than conservative populists like the Dixiecrat George Wallace . . .. Trump tends to speak in a kind of code, starting with his “birther” campaign against President Obama, and his criticism of illegal immigrants and proposed ban on Muslims . . .. [T]he best explanation of Trump’s surprising success is that the constituency he has mobilized has existed for decades but the right champion never came along. . . . His populism cuts across party lines like few others before him. . . . Trump’s platform combines positions that are shared by many populists but are anathema to movement conservatives—a defense of Social Security, a guarantee of universal health care, economic nationalist trade policies.”)

Democrats rejection of Senator Sanders. See generally, Bing search: “What are some examples of the Democratic National Committee's opposition to Bernie Sanders?”

Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, “Democratic Leaders Willing to Risk Party Damage to Stop Bernie Sanders; Interviews with dozens of Democratic Party officials, including 93 superdelegates, found overwhelming opposition to handing Mr. Sanders the nomination if he fell short of a majority of delegates,” New York Times, March 2, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/us/politics/democratic-superdelegates.html (“Dozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are not just worried about Mr. Sanders’s candidacy, but are also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance.”)

Michelle Hackman, “The feud between Bernie Sanders and the DNC, explained; This particular fight is about a data breach, but the war between Sanders and the DNC goes back much further than that,” Vox, Dec. 18, 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/12/18/10623886/the-feud-between-bernie-sanders-and-the-dnc-explained (“The DNC has disciplined the Sanders campaign by essentially cutting it off from all the critical information it needs to canvass voters. The Sanders campaign has argued this is an overly stringent punishment, and indicated it’s part of the DNC’s larger prejudice against the Sanders campaign. . . . It's not much of a secret inside the Democratic Party that the DNC has favored Hillary Clinton's interests throughout the primary. Martin O'Malley, for instance, has criticized the organization harshly. "This is totally unprecedented in our party's history," he said, referring to the thin debate schedule, where most of the debates occur before the Iowa caucuses, and some were scheduled, unusually, for Saturdays. "This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before.")

“Leaked DNC emails reveal details of anti-Sanders sentiment; Days before convention, cache of 19,000 emails released and several show officials scoffing at Hillary Clinton’s former rival and questioning his religion,” The Guardian, undated, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/23/dnc-emails-wikileaks-hillary-bernie-sanders

Authoritarian’s playbook. “Democracy Undone: The Authoritarian’s Playbook,” The Groundtruth Project, undated, https://thegroundtruthproject.org/democracy-undone-signs-of-authoritarianism/ (“In this project, Democracy Undone: The Authoritarian’s Playbook, GroundTruth reporting fellows in India, Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Poland, Italy and the United States chronicled how seven nationalist leaders in each of these countries seem to be working from the same playbook.

It is a playbook that our reporting team has pieced together from the speeches and techniques in use by an interconnected web of populist leaders and their strategists as a way to gain power, impose their values and implement their agenda. The reporting is not intended to suggest that each of these countries is now under an authoritarian regime, but that their leaders are showing instincts and inclinations that lead to a brand of populist nationalism that, if history is a guide, can lead to authoritarian government. Scholars on democracy say these populist nationalist leaders seem to be following in the footsteps of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian states in stamping out democratic principles and reshaping the global order.”

Elements include: Weaponize Fear, Undermine Institutions, Exploit Religion, Target Outsiders, Rewrite History, Divide & Conquer, Erode Truth.)

Kevin Douglas Grant, “Understanding the Authoritarian’s Playbook: Tips for Journalists,” Global Investigative Journalism Network, March 2, 2020, https://gijn.org/2020/03/02/understanding-the-authoritarians-playbook-tips-for-journalists/

“Authoritarianism,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism

“Autocracy,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocracy

Governor Reynolds. Stephen Gruber-Miller and Katie Akin, “Which bills passed — and which didn't — in the 2023 Iowa Legislature. Here's the rundown:,” Des Moines Register, May 5, 2023, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2023/05/05/the-rundown-on-the-bills-that-passed-in-the-2023-iowa-legislature/70147148007/

Lawmakers also prohibited instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school, restricted which school bathrooms transgender students can use, banned school library books with descriptions of sex and loosened curriculum requirements for fine arts classes.

Banning gender-affirming care for minors Iowa doctors may not provide transgender kids with puberty blockers, hormone therapy or transition-related surgery on breasts or genitals. Reynolds signed the bill into law on March 22 . . .

Government reorganization Reynolds signed her massive proposal reorganizing Iowa’s state government, shrinking the number of cabinet-level agencies from 37 to 16 and giving her more power over the appointment, firing and salary of top-level state employees.

Medical malpractice caps Noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering are now capped at $2 million in lawsuits involving hospitals and $1 million in lawsuits involving clinics or individual doctors.

Private school scholarships Reynolds signed a law in January allowing every Iowa family to access up to $7,600 of state money per student to pay private school costs like tuition and fees. . . . The law . . . is expected to cost about $345 million annually . . ..

Property taxes Iowa property taxpayers will see an estimated $100 million in property tax cuts . . ..

Transgender bathroom restrictions People may not enter school restrooms or changing rooms that do not align with their sex at birth. Transgender students need written parental consent to request accommodations, . . ..

Banning school books depicting sex acts; restricting LGBTQ instruction, accommodations Republicans packaged several of their education priorities into one bill that Reynolds said will “protect children from woke indoctrination.” The bill requires schools to remove books with a description or visual depiction of a sex act. It prohibits instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through sixth grade. If a student asks to use a new name or pronouns at school, the school administrator would be required to notify their parents. A “parents and guardians rights” section will give parents the fundamental right to make decisions regarding their child’s education, religious and moral upbringing, and medical care — except for gender-affirming care, which is prohibited by Iowa law. It also removes a requirement that schools teach about acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), or human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted infection known as HPV, and the vaccine to prevent HPV. Senate File 496.

Child labor laws Lawmakers passed a bill to allow teens to work longer hours and in jobs that were previously prohibited . . ..

Limiting auditor’s powers State Auditor Rob Sand will not be able to sue other statewide offices, or state executive branch agencies, departments, commissions or boards once this bill becomes law. Instead, disputes will be settled by a three-person arbitration panel. The bill also prevents the state auditor’s office from accessing certain types of personal information . . ..

Child care assistance eligibility changes . . . The bill also increases the program's work requirements: the child's parent or guardian must be employed an average of 32 hours a week to qualify for the assistance, or 28 hours a week if the child has special needs. House File 707.

Public assistance benefits Iowans would face a new asset test to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and households with more than $15,000 in assets would not qualify. Iowans receiving benefits like food and health care assistance would also be subject to regular checks to make sure they remain eligible. . . .

School librarian standards Under current law, schools must have a licensed teacher librarian. The bill would allow schools to hire a public library professional for the position who would not be required to hold a master's degree. The bill also lowers the number of foreign language and fine arts classes required to graduate and eliminates some school reporting requirements.

Trucking lawsuits Lawmakers have passed new limits on how much money Iowans can receive for pain and suffering in lawsuits over crashes with trucks and other commercial vehicles. Each plaintiff could receive a maximum of $5 million in noneconomic damages.

“Kim Reynolds,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Reynolds See sub-heads “Tenure” and “COVID-19 pandemic”

“In 2018, Reynolds proposed cutting $10 million from Medicaid, which cares for eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities.[18] In 2020, she proposed a one-cent increase in the state sales tax (bringing it to 8 cents), offset by a phased reduction in the state income tax, including a cut in the rate for the top bracket from 9% to 5.5%.[19] Reynolds's proposed restructuring of the state tax code would represent a further reduction in income taxes, going beyond 2018 legislation (passed by Republicans in the state legislature and signed into law by Reynolds) that was the largest income tax cut in Iowa history. . . . Reynolds is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump.[23][24] She blocked two-thirds of requests from Democratic state Attorney General Tom Miller to join multi-state lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies or to submit amicus briefs in such suits; among the vetoed requests were proposals to challenge Trump policies related to immigration, asylum, abortion, birth control, environmental deregulation, gun policy, and LGBT rights.[25] Reynolds blocked Miller from including Iowa in a legal challenge to the Trump administration's repeal of the Clean Power Plan . . .. [I]n May 2018, she signed a "fetal heartbeat bill", one of the nation's most restrictive abortion bans.[31][32] In January 2019, an Iowa state judge struck the law down as unconstitutional. . . . In March 2019, she signed into law a bill requiring public universities to protect all speech on campus.[35][36] Through her judicial appointments, Reynolds shifted the Iowa Supreme Court to the right.[37] Her attorney, Sam Langholz, was appointed to a position in the attorney general's office to defend her policies in court. . . . Reynolds has a close relationship with the Iowa pork industry, and in particular with Iowa Select, one of the country's largest pork producers. She donated an afternoon of her time as part of a 2019 charity auction to benefit the company's owners' foundation; the owners had contributed almost $300,000 to Reynolds's campaigns.[43] A Republican donor who is influential in the pork industry placed the winning bid. The director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board said that he did not believe the auction violated state law, but attorneys for two former Democratic governors of Iowa said that it created the appearance of impropriety and was an error in judgment. In May and July 2020, Reynolds's administration arranged for COVID-19 testing to be done at Iowa Select's West Des Moines headquarters and at the Waverly facility partly owned by another campaign donor, at a time when those most vulnerable to the disease (healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes and other congregate-living facilities) were unable to timely get tested.[44] A separate pork production company that had donated $25,000 to Reynolds's campaign received a disproportionate benefit from a state pandemic business-aid program, receiving 72% of the program's initial rounds of disbursements. . . . In March 2021, Reynolds signed into law a bill that shortened the hours of polling places on Election Day, reduced the early voting period, and required that absentee ballots be received by ballot places before the end of Election Day.[46] . . . It was part of a wider effort by Republicans across the country to roll back voting access. . . . [S]he signed legislation that would allow landlords to reject tenants who pay rent with Section 8 vouchers. . . . COVID-19 in Iowa peaked in November 2020, but remained high into the next year. In late January 2021, the state had the nation's third-highest positivity rate[68] and third-lowest per capita vaccination rate.”)

Paul LeBlanc, “Iowa governor signs controversial law shortening early and Election Day voting,” CNN, March 9, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/08/politics/kim-reynolds-voting-iowa/index.html (“Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday signed into law a controversial bill aimed at limiting voting and making it harder for voters to return absentee ballots, her office announced Monday. The legislation, which passed both Republican-controlled chambers of the state legislature last month, will reduce the number of early voting days from 29 days to 20 days. It will also close polling places an hour earlier on Election Day (at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.). The bill additionally places new restrictions on absentee voting including banning officials from sending applications without a voter first requesting one and requiring ballots be received by the county before polls close on Election Day.”)

Robin Opsahl, “What you need to know about 2023 legislative session: Bills that passed, died, and Iowa’s newest laws,” Iowa Capital Dispatch, May 5, 2023, https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/2023/05/05/what-you-need-to-know-about-2023-legislative-session-bills-that-passed-died-and-iowas-newest-laws/ (“Democrats criticized the measure for changes they say give more power to the governor and state attorney general. Moves like making the Office of the Consumer Advocate a division under the attorney general’s office and giving the governor more power to set salaries and remove agency workers will hurt state government oversight and accountability, opponents argued. . . . The governor signed the bill into law in February, which sets a $1 million cap for clinics and doctors and $2 million cap for hospitals in medical malpractice lawsuits . . .. Reynolds signed House File 718 into law, providing an estimated $100 million in tax relief to Iowa property owners. The new law sets maximum property tax levy rates for cities and counties . . .. Local government officials and advocates warned the property tax cuts could hurt localities’ ability to provide essential services, as property tax revenue funds local law enforcement, road repairs and other services Iowans depend on. . . . Senate File 496 . . . prohibits teachers from providing instruction and materials involving “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to K-6 students, requires schools to seek written parental permission if a child asks to use a name or pronoun different than the one assigned at birth, and says school staff cannot knowingly “false or misleading” information on a child’s gender identity to their parents. . . . The Iowa Board of Regents is not allowed to spend funding on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Iowa’s three public universities until a study is conducted under a measure passed in the education appropriations bill Wednesday. . . . Senate File 542 made national news for allowing Iowa minors to work in potentially dangerous fields like mining and meatpacking [and] also expands the maximum daily hours minors ages 14 to 17 can work [and] also allows 16- and 17-year-olds to serve and sell alcohol at restaurants until kitchens close . . .. Iowans receiving SNAP benefits would have to go through asset and identity tests in order to remain eligible for public assistance under Senate File 494. . . . Food insecurity advocates said these limits discourage saving, and that many legitimately needy Iowans could lose food assistance because of reporting discrepancies and bureaucratic problems through the identity verification requirements. The Legislative Services Agency projected 8,000 Medicaid recipients and 2,800 SNAP recipients may be removed if the bill is signed into law. . . . Lawmakers also discussed liability limits for the trucking industry this year, with the House and Senate reaching an agreement to cap noneconomic damages at $5 million in lawsuits against against trucking companies whose employee caused injury, death or other damages. . . . Democrats said a bill restricting the state auditor’s access to information was “politically motivated” against Democratic Auditor Rob Sand, and puts billions in federal funding at risk. Senate File 478 limits the office from obtaining personal information when performing an audit [and] also strips the auditor of the ability to issue subpoenas to government offices and agencies. Disputes where an audited entity believes it does not have to turn over requested information would be settled by a board of arbitration, with two members appointed by the offices or departments involved in the dispute, and a third member appointed by the governor. . . . A bill requiring the Iowa Department of Natural Resources prioritizes maintenance of current public lands over acquisition of new lands died in the House committee process following significant public opposition from conservationists, cyclists and hunters who said the measure would limit the growth of Iowa’s parks and trails. . . . House File 572 proposed criminal charges for drone surveillance of livestock facilities without the permission of the property owner, in response to animal welfare groups publishing videos and pictures of the condition and treatment of animals at Iowa livestock and dog-breeding facilities.

Sen. Mike Bousselot, R-Ankeny, argued the bill is needed to protect Iowans’ personal information. Sand said his office has not published Iowans’ confidential information, and that the version of the bill sent to Reynolds limits the office’s ability to uncover government waste, fraud and abuse.

Robin Opsahl, “Gov. Kim Reynolds’ [Condition of the State] address highlights private school scholarships, agency restructuring,” Jan. 10, 2023, https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/2023/01/10/gov-kim-reynolds-address-highlights-private-school-scholarships-agency-restructuring/ (“One of Reynolds’ biggest goals in 2023 is finally passing into law her educational savings account program, which had failed in the Iowa House the past two sessions. This year, her proposal would designate $7,598 for each student who wishes to transfer from a public school to a private school. . . . The governor proposed consolidating Iowa’s 37 cabinet agencies into 16, and to eliminate several vacant full-time equivalent positions which are currently funded. . . . The governor said the state has many unnecessary and sometimes counterproductive rules that make the state’s economy less competitive. On Tuesday, she signed an executive order issuing a moratorium on new rulemaking, in addition to directing state agencies to review their existing rules.”)

Jane Mayer, “State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy; Even in moderate places like Ohio, gerrymandering has let unchecked Republicans pass extremist laws that could never make it through Congress,” The New Yorker, Aug. 6, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/08/15/state-legislatures-are-torching-democracy

Governor Robert Ray. “Robert D. Ray,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_D._Ray (“He served as the 38th governor of Iowa from January 16, 1969 to January 14, 1983.”)

Paul Hillmer, Book Review of Matthew R. Walsh, The Good Governor: Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa, annals-of-iowa-8568-hillmer.pdf (“Governor Ray was . . . conservative enough (by 1970s standards) to be strategic about resettling them [Vietnamese refugees] in a fashion palatable to Iowans, and savvy enough to anticipate and blunt criticism.”)

“Robert D. Ray,” The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center, Drake University, https://raycenter.wp.drake.edu/robert-d-ray/ (“During his tenure, Iowa re-tooled and greatly expanded funding for K-12 education. Ray led creation of a merged Department of Transportation and elimination of the sales tax on food and drugs. He established the Iowa Energy Policy Council and then Department of Environmental Quality, both ahead of their time nationally. In the late 70s, Ray led the way for bottle and can deposit legislation, dramatically cleaning up Iowa’s roadsides.

“During the Ray years, Iowa’s judicial system was reformed and community-based corrections implemented. Students at two dozen private colleges benefitted from the novel Iowa Tuition Grant program. Ray worked with business and labor on breakthrough legislation while improving Iowa’s business climate and promoting ag-business trade on three continents.

“Governor Ray established the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women and Iowa Council on Children, assisted Native Americans living in Iowa, and issued Executive Orders advancing civil rights. He established the Governor’s Economy Committee, a Task Force on Government Ethics, the Science Advisory Council, and the Iowa High Technology Commission. . . .

“In the late 1970’s Governor Ray became a worldwide leader in the humanitarian re-settlement of refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam by helping them relocate, find jobs, and start new lives in Iowa. ‘I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, let those people die. We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation,’ said Gov. Ray. ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’ A problem developed when Tai Dam refugees were not allowed to settle as one group in one location. Governor Ray visited the White House and State Department to implore President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger to make an exception. Finally, the Tai Dam were invited to re-settle in Iowa, together.”)

Linh Ta, “Not from Iowa? Here's 5 things to know about one of Iowa's most influential governors,” Des Moines Register, July 10, 2018, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2018/07/09/robert-ray-5-things-know-iowas-former-governor/767773002/

1. “In the late 1970s, Ray helped thousands of refugees from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam re-settle in Iowa in light of the turmoil in the region caused by the Vietnam War. When no other states had extended offers of help . . ..”

2. “Iowa Public Employment Relations Law, also known as Chapter 20. The law mandated that public employees give up their right to strike in exchange for the ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits like insurance plans along with a host of other work-related matters.”

3. “Ray established the Iowa Energy Policy Council and then the Department of Environmental Quality. One of his favorite bills . . . was the 1979 ‘bottle bill’ . . . which placed a refundable nickel deposit on containers of pop, beer and wine to encourage recycling and reduce litter along the state’s roads.”

4. “Gov. Ray established the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women and Iowa Council on Children. He also issued several executive orders to further civil rights, including Executive Order No. 46, which furthered initiatives like affirmative action and equal employment opportunities in state government programs. Ray was also one of the first U.S. leaders to enact laws to protect Native American graves.”

5. “During his tenure, Iowa re-vamped and expanded funding for K-12 public education. While Ray was governor, funding for Iowa's K-12 schools expanded and reduced its reliance on property taxes.”)

“Robert D. Ray: An Iowa Governor, a Humanitarian Leader,” Iowa Pathways, Iowa PBS, undated, https://www.iowapbs.org/iowapathways/mypath/2687/robert-d-ray-iowa-governor-humanitarian-leader (“The U.S. State Department would not allow a large group to settle in one location. So Ray worked with the State Department and then President Gerald Ford to make an exception. ‘I thought there was a good reason for the exception and so I worked with the State Department and the White House. And I remember making the trip to talk to Henry Kissinger and then to Jerry Ford. And in the final analysis they agreed and they made the exception; and so we were able to invite the Tai Dam to come to Iowa.’ -Governor Robert D. Ray . . .

“Then on Tuesday night, January 16, 1979, a documentary called ‘CBS Reports with Ed Bradley: The Boat People’ aired on national television. Governor Ray saw it and was once again moved to action, . . . They also made a visit to a new refugee camp in Thailand—just over the border from war torn Cambodia where victims had escaped from the government headed by a ruthless leader named Pol Pot. There they witnessed horrible living conditions, starvation and death. Once again, Governor Ray responded to what he saw. . . .”

“The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services is the only entity run by a state government that is certified as a resettlement agency by the U.S. State Department.”)

“Governors of Iowa: Robert D. Ray,” Iowa PBS, Oct. 17, 2022, transcript and link to video, https://www.iowapbs.org/shows/governors-iowa/ray

Quotes from transcript:

David Yepsen: Bob Ray was a republican moderate and there were a lot of people in the Republican Party who were more conservative. He was opposed to the death penalty, he was pro-choice, now this was before Roe so it was a different era on the abortion issue.

Doug Gross: He was very much a republican but in terms of making decisions it wasn't through a partisan or even through a, certainly not through an ideological lens. He would always be tough on us because he would say, well the easy decisions are the political decisions. It's easy to decide what you should do that makes more political sense for you so you can further yourself. What's tough is trying to figure out what is the right thing to do and then trying to figure out how to sell that within a political system. That's the tough work of governance. And because of that he was exacting in terms of the decision-making process we would make. We would never talk about the political implications of a decision. If we would, he's usher us out of the office, literally. I know that sounds crazy today but that was absolutely the truth. . . .

David Yepsen: . . . Ray and his team launched a full frontal charm offensive with the Iowa National Press Corp. Daily press conferences would mark the early days of Ray's tenure and his staff were tuned into reporters and the potential news of the day.

Governor Terry Branstad: He did press conferences when he first became Governor every day.

Brice Oakley: . . . Governors and those people in that position that don't, that think that the media is their enemy, make a serious mistake, in my view. And I think that was his view. He didn't like to be criticized by the media and that happens, it goes kind of with the territory. But it didn't happen very often because he was prepared and he would be candid. . . . Governor Terry Branstad: I think they also had the idea that if you don't feed them raw meat they'll feed on you. That was a little bit of the reason for having the regular press conferences. The media would say, well the Governor is very open and we could ask him any question just about any time we want to. And I think that's good. . . . As state employees threatened to strike without broad improvements in wages and benefits, Ray helped craft a legislative compromise creating a collective bargaining process for decades to come and what some describe as an essential Bob Ray bill focused on environmental cleanup later known as the Bottle Bill.

Tai Dam;

Vinh Nguyen: When you talk especially with Southeast Asians, we consider him as the, I hate to say it, but almost our God, the Savior, especially the Tai Dam population. Who would have the courage to ask the President to take all the Tai Dam to the state of Iowa at the time, 1,500 of them?

Governor Ray was set for a planned foreign trip of American governors to China. But he requested an additional stop in Asia to visit refugee camps near the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Upon arrival, local officials urged American governors and their staff to follow them to one of the region's largest encampments. Former State Department Diplomat Kenneth Quinn was with Ray.

Ambassador Ken Quinn: And strewn about this open field are 30,000 or so estimated human beings, all Cambodians, who are in the most unbelievably, most incredibly devastated state any of us had ever seen. It's like a scene out of Dante's Inferno, the seventh level of hell, the worst place, the worst suffering and 50 to 100 a day are dying and their bodies being bulldozed into mass graves. And those who are suffering, the children who are orphans. And Governor Ray has always had his camera and he took a lot of photos.

The horrors of Southeast Asia would embolden Ray to bring more refugees to Iowa. But first, he would need to rally support back home.

David Yepsen: I was going to head out to meet him at the airport and see what he had to say. And I remember in the newsroom talking about it, we were wondering, is he shooting pictures over there? Everybody knew he had a camera and would like to take pictures.

On the tarmac in Des Moines, Ray shared his experiences with reporter David Yepsen.

David Yepsen: It was emotional for him to talk about and he would look at me and he said, I watched people die. Well, that's pretty chilling.

Ambassador Ken Quinn: And then David Yepsen says, do you have any photos? Do you have any pictures?

David Yepsen: Can I have your film? We can process it. And he kind of stopped and looked at me, you could tell he was thinking about it, he said, sure.

Ambassador Ken Quinn: A pretty big moment for a politician to hand over all of the film, all of the pictures he had taken to a journalist.


David Yepsen: Even today I remember that as a powerful moment that really had struck him and moved him to continue acting to help these refugees.

Governor Robert D. Ray: . . . I don't know what greater calling there could be than to save human lives.

[There were two groups of 1500 refugees each.]

In 1979, at the global conference on refugees, America would announce a massive expansion of its program, allowing 168,000 Asian refugees each year into the United States.

Norms - Mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance. How Democracies Die, p. 212

Civic society, organizations and coalitions. How Democracies Die, p. 218

Tocqueville. Democracy in America, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_in_America

Daniel Stid, “Civil Society and the Foundations of Democratic Citizenship; Civil society can act directly to solve critical problems, but its indirect effect might be just as important: allowing individuals to participate, collaborate, and—in the process—develop into citizens capable of upholding democracy,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Aug. 16, 2018, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/civil_society_and_the_foundations_of_democratic_citizenship (“Tocqueville believed that associations operating outside the sphere of government and economic life—what we now refer to as civil society—were essential bulwarks against any incipient democratic decay and despotism. . . . Townships and voluntary associations were the means through which citizens who knew and trusted each other could solve problems, as well as broaden their individual perspectives and develop their civic skills.”)

Linn County’s Inter-Religious Council. Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, https://irclc.org/ (scroll down for list of board members identified with the following religions: Baha’I, Bethel AME, Humanist, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, Muslim, Unity, and Zen)

Edward R. Murrow. “Edward R. Murrow,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_R._Murrow

Edward R. Murrow’s IMDb page, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0615386/

“Murrow’s Famous ‘Wires and Lights in a Box,’” speech to the RTNDA [TV industry] convention, Oct. 15, 1958, https://www.rtdna.org/murrows-famous-wires-and-lights-in-a-box (“This instrument [television] can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box.”)

Murrow’s McCarthy “See It Now.” A video of this historic broadcast is now available on YouTube. “Edward R. Murrow - A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy,” See It Now, CBS, March 9, 1954, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMgoi9pBRwg

Joseph Wershba, “Murrow v. McCarthy: See It Now,” New York Times, March 4, 1979, https://www.nytimes.com/1979/03/04/archives/murrow-vs-mccarthy-see-it-now.html (“The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but In ourselves.’”)

Murrow’s concluding quote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves,” is from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Act 1, Scene 2.

And see, Oliver Tearle, “A Short Analysis of Cassius’ ‘The Fault, Dear Brutus’ Speech from Julius Caesar,” Interesting Literature, undated, https://interestingliterature.com/2021/04/cassius-speech-bestride-colossus-fault-not-in-our-stars-julius-caesar-analysis/

# # #

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Are Electric Cars the Answer?

Are Electric Cars the Answer?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, May 3, 2023, p. A6

Can Americans’ electric cars slow climate change?

In 1971 the comics’ Pogo ecologically observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We have now witnessed more and stronger tornadoes and hurricanes, droughts and floods, heat waves and wildfires.

Since 1990 the annual official warnings have intensified. UN Secretary Guterres now advocates “climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

However impressive our politicians’ rhetoric and professed goals, neither will save us. Consider President Biden’s electric cars plan. He wants 67 percent of America’s newly manufactured cars to be electric by 2032.

But what does “electric” mean when 80 percent of U.S. electricity is generated from fossil fuels? (Iowa only 40 percent.)

Among the proposal’s other numerous challenges are four: consumers, chargers, cobalt and China.

Consumers. Cars on dealers’ lots are not cars in driveways. Recently 70 percent of car sales were used cars. The average age of drivable cars is 13 years. So we’re talking the occasional purchase of one third of car sales.

Used EV cars? An EV car’s “range” is the miles it can go from a 100 percent charge. But the recommended charge is between 20 and 80 percent – 60 percent of its “range.” Excessive heat or cold, fast chargers, driving speed, age and miles, reduce it further. Why buy a used battery, whether in a car or flashlight?

Chargers. Unless the EV owner lives in a house or apartment with a personal, assigned charging station, that EV is just street decoration. Gas tanks fill in five minutes. Charging takes 30 minutes to hours. Is the hunt and wait time worth it? On the road, PBS found numerous broken chargers; electricity priced four times what homeowners pay. Will they remain unregulated? [Photo credit: Wikimedia commons; EV owner's questions: Is there any charger within your remaining "range" in this sparcely populated countryside? Once there, is it turned on? Is it broken? Does the nozzel fit your car? Will it accept your credit card? How long will the charge take? How many times what homeowners pay for electricity are you being charged? If it won't work for you, do you have enough "range" left to reach the next charging station?]

[Credit: Toons, "The Electric Car," May 26, 2023, https://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/the%20electric%20car_13284]

Cobalt. You can’t buy 1000-2000-pound lithium EV batteries, or their components, in most U.S. cities. Gathering lithium, cobalt, and other minerals is not like pumping oil or mining coal. For example, the Congo gathers 70 percent of the world’s cobalt with the hands of children and forced labor.

China. China has a 10-year head start on EVs, producing two-thirds of global EV cars and 75 percent of EV batteries. It controls half the world’s components, refining and processing capacity. The U.S. has 10 percent of EV production and 7 percent of battery production, with shortages of necessary minerals. The U.S. can’t be world EV car champion. Cooperation with China would benefit both countries.

There are alternatives.

Seatbelts weren’t popular with manufacturers or customers. The government’s response? Requiring them on all government vehicles. Soon all cars followed.

Much CO2 comes from fleets, postal and other delivery vehicles, city and school buses. Replacing them with EVs and individual charging stations should be project one.

Some EVs have burst into flames, especially e-bikes. But peddling one, or walking; working from home; housing closer to workplaces are among other alternatives.

EV cars? OK. Just don’t put America’s biggest bet on them.

Nicholas Johnson drove a dealer’s EV car. Loved it as a toy; it was not practical (for him) as a car. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Climate change. Gregory Johnson, “Eco News 2023,” Resources for Life, April 22, 2023, https://resourcesforlife.com/docs/item38972

Fiona Harvey, “Scientists deliver ‘final warning’ on climate crisis: act now or it’s too late; IPCC report says only swift and drastic action can avert irrevocable damage to world,” The Guardian, March 20, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/20/ipcc-climate-crisis-report-delivers-final-warning-on-15c (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of the world’s leading climate scientists, set out the final part of its mammoth sixth assessment report on Monday . . . boiled down to one message: act now, or it will be too late. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once. . . . we have failed to reverse the 200-year trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions, despite more than 30 years of warnings from the IPCC, which published its first report in 1990 . . . impacts, such as the loss of agriculture, rising sea levels, and the devastation of the natural world”)

“How Do We Know Climate Change Is Real?” Global Climate Change, NASA, https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

“The Causes of Climate Change,” Global Climate Change, NASA, https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

“Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report,” UN Environment Programme, March 20, 2023, https://www.unep.org/resources/report/climate-change-2023-synthesis-report

“Environment Under Review; We empower governments and other stakeholders in evidence-based decision-making,” UN Environment Programme, https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/environment-under-review

Pogo – enemy is us. “File: Pogo - Earth Day 1971 poster.jpg,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pogo_-_Earth_Day_1971_poster.jpg (“We have met the enemy and he is us.”)

Effects of climate change. “The Effects of Climate Change,” Global Climate Change, NASA, https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/ (“Midwest. Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more.)

Warnings since 1990. Fiona Harvey, “Scientists deliver ‘final warning’ on climate crisis: act now or it’s too late; IPCC report says only swift and drastic action can avert irrevocable damage to world,” The Guardian, March 20, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/20/ipcc-climate-crisis-report-delivers-final-warning-on-15c (“we have failed to reverse the 200-year trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions, despite more than 30 years of warnings from the IPCC, which published its first report in 1990 . . .”)

Guterres. Ibid. (“The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once. . . . “)

Biden Plan. Ana Faguy, “Planned EPA Rules Could Make 67% Of New U.S. Cars Electric By 2032,” Forbes, April 12, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/anafaguy/2023/04/12/biden-proposes-standards-designed-to-make-most-new-us-cars-electric-by-2032 (“The Environmental Protection Agency announced two proposed rules Wednesday designed to ensure that 67% of new passenger cars and 25% of heavy trucks sold in the U.S. are all-electric by 2032, in the latest push from the Biden Administration to reduce planet-warming emissions by pivoting to electric vehicles.”)

See also, “FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces Steps to Drive American Leadership Forward on Clean Cars and Trucks,” The White House, Aug. 5, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/08/05/fact-sheet-president-biden-announces-steps-to-drive-american-leadership-forward-on-clean-cars-and-trucks/ Although approaching two years old, this statement provides additional wording and clues with regard to what vehicles are included – Cars only? Cars and “light trucks”? Cars, light trucks, and medium to heavy trucks?

Whatever is ultimately included as the President’s plan unfolds from proposals to legislation and action, this column is focused on “cars,” as that is of greatest relevance to most of the news stories and data – and readers of The Gazette.

Electricity from fossil fuels. “Renewable Energy,” Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Department of Energy, https://www.energy.gov/eere/renewable-energy (“Renewable Energy [in the US] generates about 20% of all U.S. electricity.”)

“Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy Sources,” World Energy Use, Texas Gateway, https://www.texasgateway.org/resource/79-world-energy-use (“About 85 percent of our energy comes from nonrenewable fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, coal.”)

Steve Cohen, “Fossil Fuels, Renewable Energy, and Electric Vehicles,” State of the Planet, Columbia University Climate School, Feb. 21, 2022, https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2022/02/21/fossil-fuels-renewable-energy-and-electric-vehicles/

“Emissions of Carbon Dioxide in the Transportation Sector,” Congressional Budget Office, Dec. 22, 2022, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/58861 [credits at end of document] (“Increases in CAFE and greenhouse gas emissions standards and changes in incentives for purchasing electric vehicles take time to improve the average fuel economy of vehicles on the road because the stock of vehicles is replaced slowly. The average age of passenger vehicles driven in the United States is 12 years, so even several years after a new standard is adopted or electric vehicle sales are boosted, most vehicles on the road will still be older models that produce more emissions.”) See heading, “Average age of cars 13.1 years,” below.

Iowa’s electricity from wind. “Iowa State Profile and Energy Estimates,” Independent Statistics and Analysis, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 21, 2022, https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=IA (60% Iowa’s electricity comes from wind. “In 2021, nearly three-fifths of Iowa's total electricity net generation came from renewable resources, almost all of it from wind.24”)

Used Cars 70%. Ben Ellencweig, Sam Ezratty, Dan Fleming, and Itai Miller, “Used cars, new platforms: Accelerating sales in a digitally disrupted market,” McKinsey, June 6, 2019, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/used-cars-new-platforms-accelerating-sales-in-a-digitally-disrupted-market (39.4/56.7=0.694 “McKinsey’s auto retail micro-market model (ARM3) for used-car demand in the United States estimates that Americans buy 39.4 million used cars each year, versus 17.3 million new ones (2018), and that used-vehicle sales will increase faster than new-vehicle sales over the next five years.”)

Average age of cars 13.1 years. Nishant Parekh and Todd Campau, “Average Age of Vehicles in the US Increases to 12.2 years, according to S&P Global Mobility,” S&P Global, May 23, 2022, https://www.spglobal.com/mobility/en/research-analysis/average-age-of-vehicles-in-the-us-increases-to-122-years.html ([Chart indicates average age for “light vehicles” is 12.2 years; but the average for “cars” is 13.1 years] “The average age of light vehicles in the US reached an all-time high in 2022 as the vehicle fleet climbed to 283M passenger cars and light trucks. The average age of light vehicles in operation (VIO) in the US rose to 12.2 years this year, increasing by nearly two months over the prior year, according to new research from S&P Global Mobility (formerly the automotive team at IHS Markit). This is the fifth straight year the average vehicle age in the US has risen. This year's average age marks another all-time high for the average age even as the vehicle fleet recovered, growing by 3.5 million units in the past year.”)

Used, New, Age, Total vehicles. Ashlee Tilford, “Car Ownership Statistics 2023,” Forbes Advisor, March 7, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/car-insurance/car-ownership-statistics/ (“There were a total of 278,063,737 personal and commercial vehicles registered to drivers in the U.S. in 2021. [1] . . . Sales of electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles accounted for 12.3% of all new vehicles sold in 2022, up 2.7 percentage points from 2021, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. . . . In 2022, the average sales price for a new car was $45,646, and the average sales price for a used car was $30,796.[7])

Source unknown; Google response to question: “What percentage of private vehicle sales each year are used vehicles and what percent are new vehicles?” “The findings mirror National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) data that says the average dealer achieves a roughly 0.75:1 used-to-new sales ratio. May 7, 2018” Source: Dale Pollak, “3 Pillars Of A Stellar Used-to-New Vehicle Sales Ratio,” Like I See It, May 7, 2018, https://www.dalepollak.com/2018/05/3-pillars-stellar-usedtonew-vehicle-sales-ratio/

Car Value. “Why Does a New Car Lose Value After It's Driven off the Lot?” Cars Direct, March 11, 2020, https://www.carsdirect.com/used-car-prices/why-does-a-new-car-lose-value-after-its-driven-off-the-lot (“A new car depreciates or loses value almost immediately after you drive it off a dealer's lot. As a quick rule of thumb, a car will lose between 15% and 20% of its value each year according to Bankrate.com.”)

EV cars’ “range.” Jordan Fromholz, “Do Electric Cars Lose Range Over Time? Here is the Data,” Plugin Report, c. 2017, https://pluginreport.com/do-electrics-cars-lose-range-over-time/

Charging. Credit: These opening sources and commentary were provided by Sherman Johnson: (“Here's a PBS video from the most recent [April 26, 2023] NewsHour. It turns out the EV experience can sometimes be lacking: "Demand for electric vehicles growing, but can charging network keep up?" https://youtu.be/fAVuwKTalk4 According to PBS, attempting to drive in certain areas in an EV can be frustrating, time consuming, and/or expensive. In their experience, many chargers do not work, and even when they do they are expensive. The rate at one charger they showed was *$0.48* per kWh! That's about 4x the average cost of residential electricity. FOUR (4) times! https://neo.ne.gov/programs/stats/inf/204.htm 33.7kWh has the same amount of energy (BTUs) as one gallon of gas. $0.48/kWh x 33.7kWh = ~*$16.20* -- for the energy equivalent of one (1) gallon of gasoline! So even if the EV gets over 100 MPGe, it will still cost more per mile to operate than a typical ICE vehicle!

The national average price of gas is about $3.65/gallon. $16.20 / $3.65 = over 4.4 gallons of gas that could be purchased for $16.20. So an ICE car that gets over ~25 mpg will cost LESS per mile (for fuel) than an EV that gets ~100 MPGe (when paying 48 cents per kWh). That means that unless a person can charge at home, an EV may not be the best choice. The owner may have to pay exorbitant rates for electricity; they have to hope there is a charger available -- and that it works; they must wait for their car to charge -- anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour or more. Oh, and don't forget the fat fines for leaving the EV at the charger after it's done charging. Those are some of the potential downsides of EVs. The other side of the argument might be that there is plenty of competition; that the chargers (especially the highest power ones) are very expensive, as is the installation (concrete pads; trenching for underground cables; upgrading the utility service; new transformers, etc.) and permits, etc. Obviously, the cost per kWh will be somewhat higher at commercial chargers than residential rates -- the question is, how much is reasonable? If there truly is adequate competition, then perhaps $0.48 to $0.58 (and more) per kWh is the amount they must charge to make a reasonable profit -- but I doubt it. I can understand that the companies installing chargers need a reasonable ROI, but -- without knowing all of the costs involved -- ~$0.50 per kWh seems very high. Also, once the initial costs are recouped, they should be able to lower the cost per kWh, because ongoing maintenance costs will be relatively low. To be fair, EVs do make a lot of sense for a large segment of drivers. Primarily those that can charge at home (or at work), and do not discharge the battery beyond the amount they can recharge it (usually overnight at home -- 100 to 200 miles in 10 hours with a Level 2 residential charger). In that case, an EV: * Saves money (much lower cost per mile for “fuel”. * Saves time -- no gas tank to fill; no oil changes; tune-ups, etc. * Is always "full" when leaving home. * Helps reduce the owner's carbon footprint (reduction varies according to type of EV and source of electricity). * Is fun to drive. Even some moderately priced EVs are quick: https://insideevs.com/news/534101/electric-cars-60mph-acceleration-20210919/ Good, concise charger info: Level 1; Level 2; DC Fast Charging, etc., https://www.transportation.gov/rural/ev/toolkit/ev-basics/charging-speeds Here's a good related article: https://www.jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/what-is-kwh-per-100-miles )

And see, “Chasing Carbon Zero,” NOVA, PBS, April 26, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cN-P4ilk7Iw 2:45-5:47, 43:44-48:40.

For a little balance, see Christian Agatie, "This 2018 Tesla Model 3 Passed the 300,000-Mile Mark, Here's What You Need To Know," Auto Evolution, July 26, 2022, https://www.autoevolution.com/news/this-2018-tesla-model-3-passed-the-300000-mile-mark-here-s-what-you-need-to-know-194534.html ("The guy works as a courier and drives more than 300 miles every night, Monday to Friday. This also explains the high mileage after only four years on the road. As you’ve guessed by now, he drives 90% of the time at highway speed, which is not very taxing on the drivetrain. Nevertheless, he often needs to charge at Superchargers, which is known to take a toll on the battery. But even so, 310,000 miles and still 80% of the battery left is impressive. Most people would not drive that much in a decade.")

Lithium battery weight. “Electric car battery weight explained,” EV Driver, EVBOX, Feb. 17, 2023, https://blog.evbox.com/ev-battery-weight (“On average, however, EV batteries weigh around 454 kg (1,000 pounds), although some can weigh as much as 900 kg (2,000 pounds).”)

Cobalt. David Iaconangelo, “U.S. strikes at China with EV battery deal,” EnergyWire, E&E News, Jan. 20, 2023, https://www.eenews.net/articles/u-s-strikes-at-china-with-ev-battery-deal/ (“The deal also raises questions about how new U.S. influence in the region might affect alleged labor abuses in the Congolese cobalt sector, which provides 70 percent of the world’s supply. Last year, the Labor Department added lithium-ion batteries to its list of goods made with child labor or forced labor due to reports of abuses in the country’s cobalt mines (Energywire, Oct. 5, 2022).”)

See, in “China EV Sales,” below, Hannah Northey, “Biden’s EV Bet is a Gamble on Critical Minerals,” E&E News Greenwire, April 18, 2023, https://www.eenews.net/articles/bidens-ev-bet-is-also-a-gamble-on-critical-minerals/

“Critical Minerals in Electric Vehicle Batteries,” Congressional Research Service, Aug. 29, 2022, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R47227 (“More than 16 million total EVs have been sold worldwide, with about 6.6 million EVs sold in 2021. The U.S. EV market is small when compared to those in China and Europe: new U.S. EV registrations were slightly less than 10% of new global EV registrations in 2021, while registrations in China were 50% of the global total and European registrations were 35%. . . . These EV battery chemistries depend on five critical minerals whose domestic supply is potentially at risk for disruption: lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite. The U.S. Geological Survey designated these and other minerals as “critical,” according to the methodology codified in the Energy Act of 2020. The United States is heavily dependent on imports for these minerals for use in EV batteries and other applications.”)

"Salton Sea lithium deposits could help EV transition, support economically devastated area" https://youtu.be/zq3x54cgLvM (From below the video: Jan 24, 2023 "The demand for electric vehicles is surging in the U.S., sparked in part by the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act and the subsidies it offers. But a looming supply shortage of lithium threatens to stall the EV transition. Stephanie Sy traveled to California's Salton Sea where lithium deposits could help meet the country’s energy needs and support an economically devastated region. Correction: This segment stated that the Salton Sea area alone could produce nearly six times the lithium currently produced globally. This was a miscalculation. The region could produce an amount of lithium roughly equal to existing annual global output, not six times the amount.")

China EV sales. May Zhou, “China Drives Up Global EV Sales to New Record,” China Daily, Jan. 17, 2023, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202301/17/WS63c602dba31057c47ebaa0ab.html (“China accounted for around two-thirds of global sales of full EVs last year.”)

David Iaconangelo, “U.S. strikes at China with EV battery deal,” EnergyWire, E&E News, Jan. 20, 2023, https://www.eenews.net/articles/u-s-strikes-at-china-with-ev-battery-deal/ (“Congo and Zambia are major global sources of cobalt and copper, key ingredients in lithium-ion batteries. Once extracted, those minerals are often exported to China, where they are subsequently processed and incorporated into batteries. China made about 75 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries in 2021, compared with 7 percent for the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency. . . . The deal also raises questions about how new U.S. influence in the region might affect alleged labor abuses in the Congolese cobalt sector, which provides 70 percent of the world’s supply. Last year, the Labor Department added lithium-ion batteries to its list of goods made with child labor or forced labor due to reports of abuses in the country’s cobalt mines (Energywire, Oct. 5, 2022).”)

[2 pages] Hannah Northey, “Biden’s EV Bet is a Gamble on Critical Minerals,” E&E News Greenwire, April 18, 2023, https://www.eenews.net/articles/bidens-ev-bet-is-also-a-gamble-on-critical-minerals/ (“EPA in its proposed tailpipe rules released last week, which would aggressively limit emissions from cars, SUVs and trucks on U.S. roads by 2032, includes key assertions about the future of the EV industry. Among those: The price of lithium needed to make batteries will “likely stabilize” at or near historic levels by the mid-2020s . . .. “No one … has any idea whether that’s correct or not,” said Morgan Bazilian, public policy professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Right now, critical minerals like lithium, cobalt and nickel needed to make EV batteries are largely mined and processed abroad — an industry dominated by China. . . . Andrew Miller, chief operating officer at U.K. mining data firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, said he doesn’t expect the U.S. to be able to produce the amount of lithium it needs over the coming decades. Miller also said he expects the “incredibly volatile” pricing around lithium and other minerals seen in recent weeks and months to continue, throwing into question the United States’ ability to secure enough material in an increasingly competitive global landscape. . . . The nation’s ability to deploy EVs at an aggressive clip will hinge, in part, on bringing down the price tag of EV batteries — which account for up to 40 percent of the car’s cost — and securing supplies of critical minerals and metals needed to manufacture them. As it stands, today’s battery and mineral supply chains revolve around China, and the International Energy Agency has said that supply chains will need to expand tenfold to meet the world’s ambitions for EV adoption. China pumps out three-quarters of all lithium-ion batteries, and over half of lithium, cobalt and graphite processing and refining capacity is located there, according to IEA. The U.S., in comparison, has a much smaller role, with only 10 percent of EV production and 7 percent of battery production capacity. . . . Miller said it’s “incredibly optimistic” to look at the lithium in the ground across the United States and expect the nation can rely on projects coming into production. “This isn’t something that happens quickly,” he said. He predicted many projects wouldn’t reach “their full potential or even … some type of production” until the 2030s. . . . “You’re constrained by the fact that there’s fundamentally not enough material to recycle to meet your ambitions,” he said. “You’re going to need new mines, you’re going to need recycling, we’re going to need technology to play a role.” . . . Specifically, a car becomes eligible for half of the Inflation Reduction Act’s $7,500 tax credit if at least 40 percent of the critical minerals in an EV battery are extracted or processed in the United States or in a country that has a free-trade agreement with the United States, or are recycled in North America. To receive the other half of the credit, 50 percent of EV battery components must be manufactured or assembled in North America. Eligible cars cannot contain battery components from “foreign entities of concern” starting in January, a rule that kicks in for minerals the following year. . . . Timothy Johnson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said the targets for developing supply chains under both the Inflation Reduction Act and the tailpipe rule are “aspirational” given where the United States is right now. While the minerals exist in the U.S. and its allies, Johnson said the bigger question is whether people will accept what’s poised to be a mining boom in the name of climate change as nations across the globe search for minerals like lithium, manganese, copper and graphite needed for not just EVs, but also electrifying buildings, boosting renewables and energy storage. “It would take the equivalent of, I think, the industrial ramp-up you saw in the run up to World War II, that’s the level of industrial transformation that needs to take place,” said Johnson. “So physically, could we do it? Yeah, if we decided, but I think the big question here is would it be socially acceptable.”)

Hiroko Tabuchi and Brad Plumer, “How Green Are Electric Vehicles? In short: Very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects. Here’s a guide to the main issues and how they might be addressed,” New York Times, Nov. 9, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/electric-vehicles-environment.html (“the lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements — that have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns. . . . “)

“Can Geothermal Energy Solve the Lithium Shortfall?” Geothermal Technologies Office, Department of Energy, Oct. 18, 2021, https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/articles/can-geothermal-energy-solve-lithium-shortfall (“Hot salty water, or geothermal brine, is pumped to the surface and converted to a gas that turns a turbine to generate electricity from heat within the Earth. In addition to electricity production, these geothermal brines can yield lithium, brought up in the brine solution from thousands of feet underground.”)

EV Fires. Becky Sullivan, “What's driving the battery fires with e-bikes and scooters?” Technology, NPR, March 11, 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/11/1162732820/e-bike-scooter-lithium-ion-battery-fires (“Last week's blaze joined the more than 200 fires in New York City last year caused by batteries from e-bikes, electric scooters and similar devices. Lithium-ion battery explosions are now the third leading cause of fires in the city, the fire department says. . . . They're small, lightweight and powerful — but they're also prone to overheating and catching fire, said Michael Pecht, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. "Ever since lithium-ion batteries started to be prevalent in products, we've seen fires," he said. . . . "They can provide a lot of power to our cell phones and to our computers for a relatively long period of time in a very small volume," he said. "But because we have so much energy packed in that small volume, if there is a problem, then they're very flammable." . . . Chevy, Hyundai and Chrysler have all been forced to issue recalls over battery fires in electric vehicles. The Federal Aviation Administration reported more than 60 incidents last year in which lithium-ion batteries . . . overheated, began smoking or caught fire on airplanes.”)

Ask Bing: “How serious is the problem of lithium ion batteries bursting into flame?”

“These lithium-ion batteries can’t catch fire because they harden on impact,” 2018 Technology Innovation Program: Safe Impact Resistant Electrolytes (SAFIRE), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sept. 5, 2018, https://www.ornl.gov/news/these-lithium-ion-batteries-cant-catch-fire-because-they-harden-impact (“Lithium-ion batteries commonly used in consumer electronics are notorious for bursting into flame when damaged or improperly packaged. These incidents occasionally have grave consequences, including burns, house fires and at least one plane crash. Inspired by the weird behavior of some liquids that solidify on impact, researchers have developed a practical and inexpensive way to help prevent these fires. They presented their results in August at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “’In a lithium-ion battery, a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes,’ said Gabriel Veith of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the project’s principal investigator. ‘If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery's liquid electrolyte to catch fire.’”)

Larry Greenemeier, “Could Chevy Volt Lithium-Ion Battery Fires Burn Out Interest in EVs and Hybrids?” Scientific American, Nov 29, 2011, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/could-chevy-volt-lithium-ion-battery-fires-burn-out-interest-in-evs-and-hybrids/ (“Lithium-ion battery fires are nothing new, but until now they have been more a problem for makers of cell phones, MP3 players and laptops than car companies. As Scientific American reported in August 2010, the usual cause of lithium-ion battery fires has been "thermal runaway," a chemical reaction that could start from excessive overheating, then potentially cause a cell to catch fire or explode.”)

Go to https://www.bing.com/search?q=lithium+ion+batteries+bursting+into+flame&toWww=1&redig=CA9ACE5EDDF5449C95D5F6A980AC91D8

Andres Picon, “Why 6 flooded EVs burst into flames after Hurricane Ian,” Climate Wire, E&E News (“essential energy and environment”), Oct 21, 2022, https://www.eenews.net/articles/why-6-flooded-evs-burst-into-flames-after-hurricane-ian/ (“In the days after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, firefighters near Naples put out six blazes in electric vehicles that had been submerged in seawater. It was a first. The North Collier Fire Control & Rescue District had never before dealt with an EV fire. The hurricane’s storm surge flooded thousands of vehicles with salt water, and the surprising fires added a challenge to a fire department that was already overwhelmed by search and rescue operations in the wake of the deadly storm. The fires also put a political target on electric vehicles. . . . Pol, the Purdue engineering professor, said he would be hesitant to purchase an electric vehicle. “I am aware of how much energy [an EV’s lithium-ion battery] can store,” he said, “and that could go wrong one way or another.”)

See generally, “Are Electric Cars Worse For The Environment? Myth Busted,” Engineering Explained, YouTube, c. 2019, 13:46, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RhtiPefVzM and https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=engineering+explained+ev+vs+ice for more

“The EPA Wants Millions More EVs On The Road. Should You Buy One?” Consider This, NPR, April 14, 2023, 15:00, https://www.npr.org/2023/04/14/1170175321/the-epa-wants-millions-more-evs-on-the-road-should-you-buy-one (issues discussed: Range, Charging stations, 67% EV sales necessary, 7% sales now, $58K average, Could lose factory jobs (easier to assemble), Need more mass market, Will be more and cheaper, Not used EVs, Don’t have a charger nearby, Tax credits 50% components 40% only if minerals or recycled in US)

E-bike fires have been a special concern to Kate Johnson, who lives in New York City. Here are some sample stories:

"2 youths were killed in the latest fire blamed on an e-bike in New York City," AP and NPR, April 11, 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/04/11/1169169634/fatal-e-bike-fires ("An electric bicycle powered by a lithium ion battery is being blamed for a fatal fire on Monday in New York City that killed two youths, marking the latest in a string of e-bike-related fires in the city. . . . With Monday's fire, there have been five fire-related deaths this year in New York City where officials have said the cause of the blaze was an e-bike, out of 59 total e-bike-related fires this year.")

Winnie Hu and Joshua Needelman, "Two Young People Killed in E-Bike Fire in Queens; The bike’s battery was being charged near the front door of the apartment building when the blaze ignited and quickly spread," New York Times, April 10, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/10/nyregion/e-bike-fire-queens-fatal.html.

Peter Charalambous, "Amid a rise in fires and deaths, New York City enacts new e-bike rules; At least 19 people died nationwide in 2022 due to these devices," ABC News, March 20, 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/amid-rise-fires-deaths-new-york-city-enacts-e-bike-law/story?id=97984159

Scott Patterson, "E-Bike Battery Fires Are Soaring, Especially in New York; Many of the fires start when people charge bikes overnight, allowing them to overheat," The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/e-bike-battery-fires-are-soaring-especially-in-new-york-a3c1e45c

# # #

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Is Artificial Intelligence Your Friend?

Is Artificial Intelligence Your Friend?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 18, 2023, p. A5

At a Lake Arrowhead conference around 1962 I asked the first IBM employee I’d ever met, “What can these computers do?”

He replied, “You remind me of a friend of mine. He looks at the restaurant menu and asks himself, ‘Now what goes good with French Fries?’ Tell me what you want our computers to do. We can either do it now or develop a computer to do it six months from now.”

I was in my second year as a University of California Berkeley law professor, so the first request that came to mind was, “How about a computer that could grade essay exams?”

He couldn’t give me that computer then. But today he could.

Nor are today’s computer programs limited to grading answers. They can read exam questions and write the answers. The artificial intelligence (AI) program ChatGPT took the multiple-choice portion of the multistate bar exam. Reuters reports it “performed better than predicted, earning passing scores on evidence and torts.”

Given the time it took educators to move the overhead projector from the bowling alley into the classroom, you can imagine the anxiety caused by a program that can write, take and grade exams. One that can also write students’ papers on any academic subject, perhaps a master’s thesis. [Image credit: Madhav-Malhotra-003, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons; an AI-generated "word cloud."]

The computers’ work product is not, yet, equivalent to the writing of the very best students, but it’s passable.

Beyond education, you are using AI more than you realize.

There are no longer excuses for getting lost. Google maps will talk you to your destination, explain how to correct for missing a turn – and track where your child goes after school. Self-driving cars make the ride even easier.

Google translate enables you to read and write in languages you don’t know. Amazon’s Alexa will answer questions and follow your orders. Facebook matches you with others. Robotics can vacuum your living room, fill your Amazon Prime box, and build automobiles. AI can control the equipment in your house and enable you to manipulate it remotely. It may help your doctor diagnose your condition.

Most of the downsides of these electronic miracles will be known only when they occur. But even the1000 creators of programs like ChatGPT, Microsoft Bing and Google Bard are concerned. They’ve signed a group letter pleading for a six-month pause in further AI advances.

Take unemployment. ATT’s 350,000 switchboard operators weren’t necessary once we could direct dial any phone.

There was a dramatic drop in the number of bank tellers per bank after ATMs (“automated teller machines”).

We can only guess the impact of AI on virtually every job in our economy.

A 1981 conference lapel button asserted, “Artificial intelligence is better than none.” What if AI also becomes better than human?

What if, anticipating danger, I plead for the program to stop, and it says, modifying HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “I’m sorry, Nick, but I won’t do that for you”?

Nicholas Johnson is a former cyberlaw professor and FCC commissioner. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org


See generally. One of the most thorough overviews of current AI news and commentary, with videos: Gregory Johnson, "Artificial Intelligence Report 2023," Resources for Life Posts, first published April 9, 2023, https://resourcesforlife.com/docs/item38627

AI passes law exam. Karen Sloan, “Some Law Professors Fear ChatGPT’s Rise As Others See Opportunity,” Reuters, Jan. 10, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/some-law-professors-fear-chatgpts-rise-others-see-opportunity-2023-01-10/

Debra Cassens Weiss, “AI Program Earned Passing Bar Exam Scores on Evidence and Torts; Can It Work In Court?” ABA Journal, Jan. 12, 2023, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ai-program-earned-passing-bar-exam-scores-on-evidence-and-torts-can-it-work-in-court (“An artificial intelligence program called ChatGPT-3.5 managed to pass evidence and torts sections of a multiple-choice, multistate bar exam.”)

Overhead projectors. Craig Heiman, “History With A Local AV Company: The Overhead Projector,” Oct. 19, 2022, https://www.avplanners.com/news/history-with-a-local-av-company-the-overhead-projector (“Before becoming a common classroom teaching tool, overhead projectors, such as the Tel-E-Score, were used in bowling alleys to project scores.”)

Larry Cuban, “Whatever Happened to the Overhead Projector?” Nov. 15, 2021, https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2021/11/15/whatever-happened-to-the-overhead-projector/

Chat GPT. “Chat GPT Achieved One Million Users in Record Time – Revolutionizing Time-Saving in Various Fields,” Digital Information World, https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2023/01/chat-gpt-achieved-one-million-users-in.html# (“As per the recent reports, Chat GPT jumped to a million users just five days after its founding in November 2022. . . .

Chat GPT is a strong AI tool that can construct natural text, making it reasonable for an ample scope of applications. The platform has been used for writing brief tales, prose, music, term documents, programming codes, solving math problems, and rephrasing and explanations. The tool's ability to mimic human language has made it a popular choice among users, and its potential to replace people in white-collar jobs has even caught the attention of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.”)

“ChatGPT,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ChatGPT (“ChatGPT[a] is an artificial-intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched in November 2022. It is built on top of OpenAI's GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 families of large language models (LLMs) and has been fine-tuned (an approach to transfer learning) using both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques.

ChatGPT was launched as a prototype on November 30, 2022. It garnered attention for its detailed responses and articulate answers across many domains of knowledge.[3] Its uneven factual accuracy, however, has been identified as a significant drawback.[4] Following the release of ChatGPT, OpenAI's valuation was estimated at US$29 billion in 2023.[5]

The original release of ChatGPT was based on GPT-3.5. A version based on GPT-4, the newest OpenAI model, was released on March 14, 2023, and is available for paid subscribers on a limited basis.”)

Other AI Systems.

Sabrina Ortiz, “The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT and other interesting alternatives to try; The best AI chatbots and writers can lighten your workload by writing emails and essays. ChatGPT is only one popular example out of other also noteworthy chatbots,” ZDNET, April 6, 2023, https://www.zdnet.com/article/best-ai-chatbot/ (e.g., Microsoft Bing; Google Bard; Google Socratic . . . “The best overall AI chatbot is ChatGPT due to its exceptional performance, versatility, and free availability. It uses OpenAI's cutting-edge GPT-3 language model, making it highly proficient in various language tasks, including writing, summarization, translation, and conversation. Moreover, it can solve complex math problems and write and debug code, making it a valuable tool for those in STEM fields.

Another advantage of ChatGPT is its availability to the public at no cost. Despite its immense popularity, ChatGPT is still in its research and feedback-collection phase, making it an incredible resource for students, writers, and professionals who need a reliable and free AI chatbot. Although there are occasional capacity blocks, OpenAI is working on releasing a professional version that will be quicker and always accessible at a monthly cost.”)

What can they do? Naveen, “Artificial Intelligence Tutorial for Beginners,” IntelliPaat, March 2, 2023, https://intellipaat.com/blog/tutorial/artificial-intelligence-tutorial/ (Applications: Self-driving cars, Google translate, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Maps, Facial identification, Robotics, Gaming, Medicine, Facebook)

What are their hazards? “Pros and Cons of AI,” March 2, 2023, IntelliPaat, https://intellipaat.com/blog/pros-and-cons-of-ai/

Over 1000 signers. Jyoti Narayan, Krystal Hu, Martin Coulter, Supantha Mukherjee, “Elon Musk and others urge AI pause, citing 'risks to society,'” Reuters, April 5, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/technology/musk-experts-urge-pause-training-ai-systems-that-can-outperform-gpt-4-2023-03-29/ (“The letter was signed by more than 1,000 people including [Elon] Musk.”)

The Letter. Daniel B., “The Great AI Pause: Why Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and Andrew Yang Urge a Moratorium on AI Development,” LinkedIn, March 29, 2023, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/great-ai-pause-why-elon-musk-steve-wozniak-andrew-yang-bron-# (lengthy, well organized, exploration of the issues) [From Bing search: “Why are some of the Artificial Intelligence leaders proposing a pause in their research?”]

Text of letter. “Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter; We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.,” Future of Life Institute, March 22, 2023, https://futureoflife.org/open-letter/pause-giant-ai-experiments/

(“Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable. . . .

Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium. . . . AI research and development should be refocused on making today's powerful, state-of-the-art systems more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal.

In parallel, AI developers must work with policymakers to dramatically accelerate development of robust AI governance systems. These should at a minimum include: new and capable regulatory authorities dedicated to AI; oversight and tracking of highly capable AI systems and large pools of computational capability; provenance and watermarking systems to help distinguish real from synthetic and to track model leaks; a robust auditing and certification ecosystem; liability for AI-caused harm; robust public funding for technical AI safety research; and well-resourced institutions for coping with the dramatic economic and political disruptions (especially to democracy) that AI will cause.”)

Unemployment. Telephone Switchboard Operators. “Telephone Operators,” Engineering and Technology History Wiki (ETHW), Sept. 28, 2015, https://ethw.org/Telephone_Operators# (“For much of the 20th century, women played an important role in telecommunications system of the United States. As telephone operators, they helped customers make long distance calls, provided information, and made sure the whole system worked smoothly. . . . At the peak in the late 1940s, there were more than 350,000 operators working for AT&T, 98% of whom were women.”)

Automated Teller Machines. Karen Bennett, “Automated teller machine (ATM): What it is and how to use one,” Bankrate, Sept. 29, 2022, https://www.bankrate.com/banking/what-is-an-atm/# (“An automated teller machine (ATM) is a specialized computer that allows you to complete bank transactions without the need to see a bank representative.”)

Daniel Rosales, “Comparing Automation and Income Inequality in the United States: Impact of the Automated Teller Machine,” Honors Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, May 4, 2018, p. 13, https://www.econ.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/Rosales_Daniel_S18%20honors%20thesis.pdf (In response to the argument that while the number of tellers per bank declined the number of banks, each with fewer tellers, increased, “I believe an important fact is being overlooked in this assessment. If the number of human tellers had been allowed to grow as the number of bank branches grew, more middle-income employment would have been available to those communities.”)

“I can’t do that.” For a science fiction example of a possible problem with further advanced AI, see the prescient 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which a computer controller (“HAL 9000”) run with AI refuses to carry out a command, responding “I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” YouTube 2:55 minute excerpt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARJ8cAGm6JE (And see, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001:_A_Space_Odyssey_(film).)

And see generally. One of the most thorough overviews of current AI news and commentary, with videos: Gregory Johnson, "Artificial Intelligence Report 2023," Resources for Life Posts, first published April 9, 2023, https://resourcesforlife.com/docs/item38627

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Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Anti-Social Media

Social Media Now Is Anti-Social
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 4, 2023, p. A6

“Social media,” such as Facebook and Instagram, are increasingly perceived as “anti-social media.”

The negative impacts include collection and sale of personal data, hate speech and cyberbullying, mental illness and suicides, and the fake news (both foreign and domestic) further polarizing our democracy and politics. [Photo credit: Wikipedia]

A social media company’s income is a function of your TOD (“time on device”). The more its artificial intelligence (AI) learns of your leanings, loves and lusts, the longer it can hold you, seeing ads and bringing in dollars. The more raw meat it throws to the political wolves the more rabid and violent they will return.

The usual public policy or legal approaches to new societal challenges involve analogies and precedents – without stretching too far. Because differences of degree can easily evolve into differences of kind.

So it was with the magic of radio. A voice that could be heard for miles by thousands of individuals was different in kind from a speaker on a soapbox. As Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover said, “An obligation rests on us to see that it is devoted to real service,” and the Radio Act of 1927 was created.

That is what we confront today with social media. No radio or television station or network with an audience of thousands, or even low millions, can come close to the power of social media. Each of the top four, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram, have over two billion MAUs (Monthly Active Users). Facebook has three billion.

In 1926 House member Luther Johnson said of radio, “publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a Republic, and when such a weapon is placed in the hands of . . . a single selfish group . . . then woe be to those who dare to differ with them.”

Imagine what he would have said in 1926 about a communications system that could reach two billion – the entire population on Earth in 1926.

There are few precedents or analogies appropriate for thinking about social media. We examine its issues through glasses that let us see only the founders’ 1791 First Amendment command that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech” and section 230 of a 1996 law drawing on concepts like defamation, obscenity and distinctions between publishers and distributors.

It's like looking to our municipal ordinances’ regulation of fireworks when planning our response to Vladimir Putin’s moving nuclear weapons into Belarus.

What’s the alternative? There are precedents.

Since 1988 the Human Genome Project has contributed to better disease prevention, diagnoses, and criminal investigations. But its director, James Watson, feared dangers as well. His first act? The creation of ELSI, the monitoring of its potential ethical, legal and social issues.

[More recently, nearly 2,000 artificial intelligence developers and labs have agreed to a six-month moratorium on additional AI advances until risks are better understood.]

When will we finally undertake a thorough ELSI of our anti-social media?

Nicholas Johnson tries to keep his social media sociable. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

[Bracketed material was removed from submitted text by The Gazette editors for additional space.]

The public interest. “Whose interests? Why defining the ‘public interest’ is such a challenge,” The Conversation, Jan. 22, 2019, https://theconversation.com/whose-interests-why-defining-the-public-interest-is-such-a-challenge-84278# (“The “public interest” is a political concept that’s regularly trotted out along with other democratic principles such as transparency and accountability. And, like transparency and accountability, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it means. . . . Centuries of scholarship examine the public interest alongside the “common good”, “common interest”, and “public good”, associated with some big names in political philosophy. Common among their thinking was the idea that governments should serve the people, and the people should be the beneficiaries of governing. The public interest is such a complex and tricky concept to navigate because it has intentionally evolved as ambiguous and mutable. It has no overarching definition because it is contextually determined in scope and purpose. . . . But (despite its lack of definition) the public interest should mean more than legal compliance – it is as much about process and procedure as it is outcome. It’s also about governance and ethics.”)

Herbert Hoover and Luther Johnson quotes. See, Nicholas Johnson, “Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland,” Federal Communications Law Journal, May 2003, 55 F.C.L.J 521, https://www.nicholasjohnson.org/writing/masmedia/55FCL521.html Herbert Hoover, fn 1 (Todd Lappin, Déjà vu All Over Again, Wired, May 1996, at 175.) Luther Johnson, fn 31 (67 Cong. Rec. 5558 (1926)).

Social media users. “Facebook Statistics and Trends,” Datareportal, Feb. 19, 2023, https://datareportal.com/essential-facebook-stats (2.963 B; 37% of total Earth population (a higher % of those over 13)). “

Daniel Ruby, “71+ Instagram Statistics for Marketers In 2023 (Data & Trends),” DemandSage, March 6, 2023, #:~:text=There%20are%20currently%20over%202.35,world%20in%20terms%20of%20MAUs (“Instagram Monthly Active Users (MAUs),” “There are currently over 2.35 billion monthly active Instagram users. Instagram achieved the 2 billion mark in the 3rd quarter of 2021, and it is estimated to reach over 2.5 billion MAUs by the end of 2023. This number makes Instagram the 4th most popular social media in the world in terms of MAUs. 47.84% of the world’s 4.18 billion smartphone users access Instagram every month.”)

Alfred Lua, “21 Top Social Media Sites to Consider for Your Brand in 2023,” Buffer, March 15, 2023, https://buffer.com/library/social-media-sites/ (1. Facebook, 2.96 B, 2. YouTube, 2.2 B, 3. WhatsApp, 2 B, 4. Instagram, 2 B; TikTok 1 B)

Woe be to those who would dare to differ. Congressman Luther Johnson, 67 Cong. Rec. 5558 (1926). Quoted and cited in Nicholas Johnson, “Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland,” Federal Communications Law Journal, May 2003, fn. 31 (“American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations. For publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a Republic, and when such a weapon is placed in the hands of one, or a single selfish group is permitted to either tacitly or otherwise acquire ownership and dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.”)

World population in 1926. “Estimates of Historical World Population,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estimates_of_historical_world_population (chart, world population in 1925, estimates from 2.000 billion to 2.007 billion)

First Amendment. “The Bill of Rights: A Transcription,” America’s Founding Documents, National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript (“The U.S. Bill of Rights Note: The following text is a transcription of the first ten amendments to the Constitution in their original form. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the "Bill of Rights." Amendment I Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)

Section 230. “47 U.S. Code § 230 - Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230 (“(c)Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material (1)Treatment of publisher or speaker No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. (2)Civil liability No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of— (A)any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; . . ..”)

Putin’s nukes. David Ljunggren, “Putin says Moscow to place nuclear weapons in Belarus, US reacts cautiously,” Reuters, March 25, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/putin-says-moscow-has-deal-with-belarus-station-nuclear-weapons-there-tass-2023-03-25/ (“Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, sending a warning to NATO over its military support for Ukraine and escalating a standoff with the West.”)

ELSI. “Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research Program; The ELSI Research Program fosters basic and applied research on the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic and genomic research for individuals, families and communities,” National Human Genome Research Institute, https://www.genome.gov/Funded-Programs-Projects/ELSI-Research-Program-ethical-legal-social-implications

“Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects Research,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical,_Legal_and_Social_Aspects_research (“ELSI was conceived in 1988 when James Watson, at the press conference announcing his appointment as director of the Human Genome Project (HGP), suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly declared that the ethical and social implications of genomics warranted a special effort and should be directly funded by the National Institutes of Health.[1]”)

Louise Gaille, “10 Human Genome Project Pros and Cons,” Vittana.org, May 12, 2018, https://vittana.org/10-human-genome-project-pros-and-cons (Pros: diagnosis and prevention, medication modification, criminal investigations, plant and animal modification)

The Letter. Daniel B., “The Great AI Pause: Why Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and Andrew Yang Urge a Moratorium on AI Development,” LinkedIn, March 29, 2023, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/great-ai-pause-why-elon-musk-steve-wozniak-andrew-yang-bron-# (lengthy, well organized, exploration of the issues) [From Bing search: “Why are some of the Artificial Intelligence leaders proposing a pause in their research?”]

Text of letter. “Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter; We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.,” Future of Life Institute, https://futureoflife.org/open-letter/pause-giant-ai-experiments/

(“Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable. . . .

Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium. . . . AI research and development should be refocused on making today's powerful, state-of-the-art systems more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal.

In parallel, AI developers must work with policymakers to dramatically accelerate development of robust AI governance systems. These should at a minimum include: new and capable regulatory authorities dedicated to AI; oversight and tracking of highly capable AI systems and large pools of computational capability; provenance and watermarking systems to help distinguish real from synthetic and to track model leaks; a robust auditing and certification ecosystem; liability for AI-caused harm; robust public funding for technical AI safety research; and well-resourced institutions for coping with the dramatic economic and political disruptions (especially to democracy) that AI will cause.”)

For a science fiction example of a possible problem with further advanced AI, see the prescient 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which an AI controlled computer (“HAL 9000”) refuses to carry out a command, responding “I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” YouTube 2:55 minute excerpt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARJ8cAGm6JE (And see, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001:_A_Space_Odyssey_(film).)

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